Abacus is Prague-based Australian author and poet Louis Armand's seventh novel, his fifth in as many years. Such a prolific work rate is admirable, but in telling a story which covers the entirety of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of ten disparate yet loosely connected members of the same Australian dynasty, two hundred pages falls short of doing this epic narrative justice. What remains is a series of vignettes, some more compelling than others.
Thematically, the focus is on conflict and its effects on family, balanced nicely against the under-appreciation of art in Australian society. It is in its battle scenes where Abacus succeeds best. The two world wars and the Vietnam war are all covered. The second character – Sid Smith – has scenes in the trenches, which are as good as any of the multitudinous Australian portrayals of that era, and fifth character Georg Natschke has a realistic yet all too brief chapter set on a sinking U-boat.